Restoring vegetation on the Gulf coastline is helping to improve your chance of landing bigger trout and redfish
Freshwater anglers have long understood that finding grass means finding the bass.
In the last decade, saltwater fishermen in Louisiana have begun to understand that it’s not just largemouth bass that love to live, lurk, and feed in submerged grass beds. Popular brackish-marsh dwellers, like speckled trout and redfish, utilize this subsurface vegetation, as well.
Throughout the late summer and into the spring, speckled trout cruise the edges of grass beds in marshes, coastal lakes, and bays eating shrimp, mullet, menhaden, crabs, and even bluegill, shad, and other freshwater forage. Juvenile trout spend much of their first few months in the grass, as well—eating and hiding from predators.
Redfish from two to 25 pounds live in and around the submerged vegetation, too, using clumps and pockets in the grass as ambush points. In fact, they are usually sharing these same dents and pockets with largemouths.
Few things in angling match the excitement of a 10-pound redfish demolishing a topwater frog or a buzzbait meant to lure a bass from a grassy shoreline.
In addition to the enormous benefits for sportfish, forage fish, and migrating waterfowl, submerged grasses help to break up wave action, filter out suspended sediment, and infuse dissolved oxygen into the water. This protects sensitive marshy shoreline while improving water quality.
Submerged grass beds had become scarce in many of the marshes of Southeast Louisiana in the 1980s and 90s.
Annual flooding of the Mississippi River had been largely cut off from coastal marshes by levees and canals—like the ill-fated Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO) in St Bernard Parish and the Barataria Waterway in Jefferson Parish—while hundreds of oil field canals were allowing saltwater to intrude deep into brackish and freshwater marshes and swamps.
The salt water killed off hundreds of thousands of acres of grass beds, along with large expanses of coastal oak and cypress forests, reducing the productivity of coastal fisheries, weakening already-loose marsh soils, and making coastal communities more vulnerable to the winds, waves, and storm surges from hurricanes and tropical storms.
This vulnerability was on full display during Hurricane Katrina, as storm surge flowed freely through the MRGO, across the degraded marshes and dead cypress swamps, and straight into the heart of New Orleans communities.
Fortunately, efforts over the last 20 years to restore Louisiana’s coast and control salinity levels have facilitated the return of submerged grass beds, especially in the marshes east of the Mississippi River and around Lake Pontchartrain. Marshes that held a few redfish and some seasonal speckled trout have become incredibly productive bass fisheries, while still offering excellent opportunities to catch speckled trout from early fall until the early spring and to land trophy reds year round. Ducks have returned to some of those spots too.
Lower salinity levels have also provided an opportunity for Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority and non-profit groups, like the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation and America’s Wetland Foundation, to replant cypress trees to replace the ones killed by saltwater intrusion and timber harvest in the last century.
Louisiana’s ongoing efforts to divert sediment and freshwater from the Mississippi into coastal marshes and rebuild natural coastal barriers will go a long way toward allowing submerged vegetation to return—further improving fish and waterfowl habitat and protecting coastal communities.
Our fisheries will change, and so will the way we fish, as freshwater and sediment is reintroduced. But, as many Louisiana anglers have found out in the last two decades, it will be a change for the better.
To advocate for the construction of diversions to restore the Mississippi River Delta, please log on to www.coastal.la.gov.